‘Great Expectations’ is a novel written by Charles Dickens, first serialised in ‘All the Year Round’ ranging from the first of December 1860 to August 1861. It is regarded as one of his greatest and one of his most sophisticated novels and has been adapted for stage and screen over two hundred and fifty times. The book is written in the genre of ‘Bildungsroman’ which is the style of book that follows the story of a character in their endeavour for maturity; usually starting from childhood ending in the protagonist’s eventual adulthood. ‘Great Expectations’ traces the story of an impecunious young orphan named Pip, writing his life from his early days until his later life and trying to develop into a gentlemen along the way. The novel is also considered to be semi-autobiographical of Dickens, meaning he draws ideas from his own experiences and portrays these in the book. For instance, when Dickens was a youth, his mother forced him to work in a factory for which he never forgave her for. In the novel, the ‘mother-figures’ such as Mrs Joe, treat Pip cruelly representing Dickens’ adolescence. Charles Dickens was known as a ‘social reformer’ meaning he did not believe in how the community was run and also with people’s frame of mind and perspective on society. During the time the book was written, many key events were happening in history such as the industrial revolution. The revolution caused many social and economic changes. For example, people that were once extremely deprived now had the chance to even become an aristocrat. Despite this, there were still extremes in the difference between the affluent and the poor. This often led to shocking injustices in society that were being unpunished due to that the committer of these crimes, were sometimes classed as a gentlemen. Dickens brings all of these ideas into the novel. Within the opening chapter, Dickens establishes significant information, such as key characters, the plot and also fills the chapter with action. Charles Dickens effectively immerses and hooks the reader in the book by using narrative devices such as pathetic fallacy. Without these techniques, each two chapter instalment in ‘All the Year Round’ would have not kept the reader curious and desiring more. Finally, Dickens introduces the key themes of the novel within the chapter, which are then developed throughout the book. These themes are: crime and punishment, parents and children, gentlemen and respectability, and lastly power and powerlessness.
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Joe Gargery is a kind, religious person within the novel, who has taken Pip in as if he was one of his own. Despite this, as Pip develops into his twenties and has unpredictably become wealthy, he starts to become ‘ashamed’ of home and Joe. Pip narrates Joe as ‘coarse and common.’ This is the start of Pip’s moral decline. In fact, Pip ‘dreaded’ the moment when Joe came to visit him. The protagonist has now turned obnoxious and patronising of those who love him. Within chapter thirty nine, Magwitch, the convict Pip met on the marshlands, unexpectedly returns to visit Pip in his new home in a prosperous area of London. In contrast to the reader’s earlier opinion of the ex-convict, he is now portrayed as being noble, courageous and also showing gratitude towards Pip for assisting him and for the fact ‘it’s death to come back.’ The reader now begins to switch their sympathy from idle Pip and now towards brave Magwitch. This may not have been the only reason why Magwitch returned from Australia. Perhaps, instead of kindness, he returned so he could use Pip for revenge against society. With Pip, who was once a working class boy now a gentlemen, this would extremely upset the middle or upper class as Pip would of not have had an education. Magwitch could use this to upset those who deny Magwitch becoming a member of middle class despite his small fortune. This links to the key theme of gentlemen and respectability and also power and powerlessness that no matter of his wealth, he would not become a member of the middle class. This idea of revenge could also be linked to a character named Mrs Havisham. She also may have used Pip for revenge through her adopted daughter, Estella. Estella plays with Pip’s heart, the same way another character named Compeyson, played with Mrs Havisham’s feelings. Through manipulating Estella and Pip, she gains revenge on, in her perspective, evil men. Through Estella, Dickens connects to the theme of parents and children.
From the information contained within chapter one, the reader can clearly see this is a Victorian novel. For instance, Pip tells the reader that ‘five’ of his ‘little brothers’ lay dead and buried next to his mother and father’s grave. This clearly shows ‘Great Expectations’ is a Victorian noel because at the time, during the industrial revolution, it was very common for young children to die whist working in factories. If Pip had worked in such a place also, he was very fortunate to come out uninjured. This links to key theme of parents and children which is established within this opening chapter and also power and powerlessness as it demonstrates that Victorian children, did not have a choice in the matter. The final way of a modern reader noticing the novel is undoubtedly Victorian, within the first chapter, is the use of language. Throughout the chapter, Dickens uses many words and phrases that have dropped out of the modern English language. A case when this can be made apparent is contained in the word ‘wittles.’ Such words have steadily fallen out of the English language, therefore showing that a novel containing such language must be from an older time namely, the Victorian era.
Dickens utilizes various techniques and devices whilst describing the setting and mainly weather, during chapter one. A chilling yet interesting description of the weather that is included in the first chapter, is essential to add to the tension and atmosphere of when Pip first meets Magwitch. There are many examples of where Dickens has used techniques to ensure that this effect is created. One technique that can be encountered in the chapter is pathetic fallacy. This is a technique that a writer uses in which the presentation of weather passes human emotions hence in this case, reflecting the protagonist’s emotions. This technique is demonstrated in examples such as ‘a row of long angry red lines.’ This dramatically adds to the menacing and depressing mood of the chapter therefore enforcing the feeling of fear and nervousness into the reader, whilst also keeping the reader engrossed in the action and curious of what might happen in the upcoming events within the chapter.
The atmosphere that is created during the opening chapter is extremely foreboding and ominous, which gives the reader a sense of unwelcoming as well as gloom. The method that Dickens uses to produce this outcome is writing techniques such as adjectives. This is illustrated by words and phrases such as: ‘terrible,’ ‘sickly,’ ‘shuddering’ and finally ‘distant savage lair.’ Without such adjectives and phrases, the desired ‘fearful’ effect would not be able to be obtained. Despite this dismal atmosphere that is formed, Dickens also uses humour within this chapter to lighten the mood from the constant dreary ambience. A prime example of humour being applied in the first chapter is within the quote ‘he gave me a most tremendous dip and roll/ the church jumped over its own weather cock.’ This would have eased the tension of the chapter for a Victorian reader, as constant despair can become monotonous and even tedious. At the end of chapter one, Dickens purposely leaves many questions on the readers mind; will Pip return with what Magwitch wants? Who is the illusive character of the other convict? How did the Magwitch escape prison? This use of cliff hangers and high drama, hooks the reader and made sure that each of Dickens’ episodes of the magazine ‘All the Year Round’ would be a roaring success.
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Throughout various points of the novel, Charles Dickens continues to use humour and suspense to enforce certain emotions towards the reader. For instance, within chapter fifty five, Pip attends Wemmick’s wedding. Wemmick is a comical character, therefore this chapter is packed full of humour. This consequently lessens the tension from the more common threatening tone of the book yet keeps the reader in suspense for what may happen in the advancing chapters. In contrast, a chapter that is crammed full with anxiety is chapter forty six, when Pip becomes concerned for Magwitch. This builds the suspense of the novel thus restoring the earlier tense climate, leaving a Victorian reader desiring action and curious of upcoming events.
Many questions arise in the primary chapter that captivate the reader to continue reading. These questions that surface are necessary to drive the plot forward and also can be used to add a twist to the current storyline to extend the reader’s interest. Dickens places many techniques into effect that are used to supply this effect such as: pathetic fallacy, use of metaphors and similes, oxymorons such as ‘pretty eyes scorning me,’ and finally a vast use of complex adjectives such as ‘sagacious.’ These methods are also needed to develop the key themes of the novel throughout, to add suspense and then in contrast to supply Victorian humour and finally to add attention-grabbing introductions for main characters. If Charles Dickens had not applied these narrative tools to the opening chapter of this book, ‘Great Expectations’ would have not been such a successful and inspiring novel.
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